The Song of Songs

Chapter 3

Chapter 2 Chapter 4

Jewish Publication Society Tanakh, 1917

Thoughts on the text

 3.1-5 Some readers interpret this whole section as a dream sequence.  I am not sure it is important whether it is or not.  She says she gets up and goes out, but most of us have ‘woken up’ in our dreams before, and still been dreaming, so who knows?
By night on my bed
    I sought him whom my soul loveth;
    I sought him, but I found him not.
It is interesting that she says she looked for her beloved on her bed at night.  Either she hopes to dream about him (that never worked for me, or wasn’t usually what I had hoped for), or she is talking about a going to sleep daydream.  I do not imagine that she actually expects him to show up.  He appears to be doing that in ch. 5, but that is surreal enough that I am currently thinking that it is a dream.
2 ‘I will rise now, and go about the city,
    In the streets and in the broad ways,
I will seek him whom my soul loveth.’
    I sought him, but I found him not.
She ‘gets up’ (whether or not in reality) and wanders the city alone (not generally recommended behavior) seeking (bqš often refers to desire) him, and happens to run into the cops.  They don’t know where her boyfriend is (do they even know who he is?).
We can easily see ourselves in her. Looking for God “in all the wrong places,” and asking the wrong people for help. But that doesn't make the process wrong. The Sufi writer Bayazid Bastami said, “The thing we tell of can never be found by seeking, yet only seekers find it.” On the other hand, he also said, “For thirty years I sought God. But when I reassessed the situation, I realized that it was He who sought me.”
3 The watchmen that go about the city found me:
    ‘Saw ye him whom my soul loveth?’
4 Scarce had I passed from them,
    When I found him whom my soul loveth:
I held him, and would not let him go,
    Until I had brought him into my mother’s house,
    And into the chamber of her that conceived me.
Soon after, she finds him. Apparently he couldn’t sleep either. She won’t let go until she brings him to her place (where she lives with her parents. An unmarried girl’s home is elsewhere called her mother’s house [Gen 24.28; Ruth 1.8]). Whether she is dreaming, fantasizing, or this is really taking place, what I see here is that up until now they have been dalliancing; at this point she is making up her mind.
5 ‘I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
    By the gazelles, and by the hinds of the field,
That ye awaken not, nor stir up love,
    Until it please.’
There is a temptation to read the adjuration to the ‘Girls of Jerusalem’ (again maybe invoking God, or maybe the animals of fertility) as meaning that her emotions should not be stimulated until she is ready. The context, however, suggest a request to be left alone with her lover.
 3.6-10 If the Songs of Songs is actually about Solomon, we have a lot to explain elsewhere in the poem.  I do not know of a single modern scholarly-academic commentator that would argue that.  But that the next section is about Solomon, in some fashion or another, is beyond doubt.  So the question, which I realize that you may not be asking, is, “What is it doing here?” Some scholars, who see the poem as more fragmented, have simply said that this is part of a description of one of his (many) weddings that has simply made its way into this collection at this point (one would have to argue, given the apparent pomp, that it would have to be the one to the princess of Egypt).  If that were the case, it has no other function than its own, since context is meaningless.
Fox speculates that it a “fantasy disguise for the beloved in his humble bower” (HarperCollins Study Bible, Harper-Collins, 1993, p. 104). All the fancy trappings represent his ideal. That, at least, solves the problem of what it is doing here.
or Her
Who is this that cometh up out of the wilderness
    Like pillars of smoke,
Perfumed with myrrh and frankincense,
    With all powders of the merchant?
In v. 6, either the chorus or the imaginary chorus (if this is still in her mind) asks, “Who is coming up from the wilderness?”  The girl, in v. 7 seems to answer with a what (Solomon’s couch), not a who.  The answer, according to the medieval Jewish scholar, Abraham Tamakh (d. 1393) is that it is the girl herself. He interpreted this passage as follows: “Having concluded the words of the beloved girl, [the poet] goes back and says that when the beloved girl entered, all who saw her extolled her and remarked in surprise and amazement on her perfection: ‘Who is this coming up from the wilderness!’”
Who is this that cometh up out of the wilderness? Coming up from the wilderness, read literally, doesn’t make much sense, even if this were a fast-forward to a wedding procession (especially if it were actually Solomon’s).  Better to understand it as a metaphor for her former and later states (formerly just an ordinary peasant girl, now a woman dressed in the magnificent fineries of being in love).
Of course, the more obvious reading (not necessarily right) is that it is Solomon himself, or in her fantasy, lover-boy, and we could easily turn her self-reading around to point at him with the same basic interpretation.
Read spiritually, the distinction is more significant. Either it represents God or Christ in his glory coming to his people, or it is the believer (or people) whose sudden appearance baffles those who had previously belittled him/her/them.
Like pillars of smoke The columns of smoke are probably incense.
Behold, it is the litter of Solomon;
    Threescore mighty men are about it,
    Of the mighty men of Israel.
Most readers assume that the couch and the warriors are part of a procession that began in v. 6.  But nothing in vss. 7-11 suggest movement, and most is antagonistic to the idea (the canopied bed, the carpets, interior laid with stones. More likely, this is simply a description of Solomon’s grandeur on the day of one of his weddings (or, if Fox is on target, the girl’s imagining of what such grandeur might have been).
In spiritual interpretation, the mighty men are angles, and the dread in the night are demons.
8 They all handle the sword,
    And are expert in war;
Every man hath his sword upon his thigh,
    Because of dread in the night.
9 King Solomon made himself a palanquin
    Of the wood of Lebanon.
Ibn Ezra (1089-~1167) reads this section (leading into the next chapter) as the young man saying (! rather than her, as most interpreters prefer) that Solomon needed to put on all this pomp, and show off his money, in order to simulate beauty, but that his (the young man’s) darling is far more beautiful.  Whether or not this is the meaning, I do tend to see it as a personal exultation, rather than as an event.  This is how this makes them feel at this moment when they have moved past courting to betrothal.
In any case, they don’t seem to be married yet in subsequent chapters. So seeing this as the lover’s wedding (even if it is only metaphorically substituting Solomon’s wedding) doesn’t make much sense in this context.
The inside thereof…O ye daughters of Zion. The NIV notes, but does not prefer, an alternative translation of this passage:
  Interior lovingly inlaid by the daughters of Jerusalem.
  Come out, you daughters of Zion, and look.
10 He made the pillars thereof of silver,
    The top thereof of gold,
The seat of it of purple,
    The inside thereof being inlaid with love,
From the daughters of Jerusalem.
11 Go forth, O ye daughters of Zion,
    And gaze upon king Solomon,
Even upon the crown
    wherewith his mother hath crowned him;
in the day of his espousals,
    And in the day of the gladness of his heart.

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